During my assignment in the Africa Southeast Area Presidency, Elder Russell M. Nelson of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles came to conduct an area training session. During that session Elder Nelson made a statement that resonated in my heart then and continues to do so today. He said, “Understand who you are in God’s plan.” This powerful concept should be a major objective of our lives here in mortality.
What a sweet blessing it is to come to know—to gain a testimony by the power of the Holy Ghost—that there is a God and that He has a plan with an exalted purpose for each of His children. It is also a very powerful, personal driving factor to be able to accept that we each can have a particular role to play in this plan. You owe it to yourself to make an extra effort to discover, in every detail possible, who you really are—to discover your eternal potential in God’s plan.
You know you are a child of God, a son or a daughter of a loving Father who has structured a glorious plan for the salvation and happiness of each of His children. You understand that you were in the presence of our Father in Heaven in premortal councils, where His plan was presented to all of His children. We accepted His plan. Jesus Christ was there, and He became the leading advocate for the plan—the objective of which is to provide all of God’s children the opportunity to come to earth; obtain a body; and, during our period of mortal probation, prove ourselves in faith, repentance, obedience, and enduring to the end. We accepted that we would one day stand before the Lord Jesus Christ and be judged. Those found worthy would be exalted and would dwell eternally in the presence of the Father and the Son, with eternal family relationships prevailing. All others would be assigned to kingdoms of lesser glory.
You also know that in order to give life and vitality to His plan—and because of His perfect love for each of His children—this loving Father offered up His Only Begotten Son, that through His atoning sacrifice in Gethsemane and on the cross at Calvary, He would become the Savior of all humankind, the eternal hope of the world. Through His sacrifice He would ensure resurrection from the grave for all, as well as provide the opportunity for forgiveness for every repentant soul. You know that without a Savior there is no plan of salvation and happiness.
The Importance of Understanding
What a blessing it is to have this revealed doctrine as a foundation upon which to build our lives and for our trust and hope in eternal happiness. But are these glorious, majestic understandings enough? They are certainly critical underpinnings for our eternal progression, but to reach our divine, eternal potential, they are only the beginning.
We are each individuals with singular talents, strengths, opportunities, and challenges. We believe we were foreordained to come to earth at a particular time into particular circumstances and that our particular set of gifts, attitudes, and talents—if properly developed and employed—will enable us to fulfill a foreordained purpose.
Elder Henry B. Eyring, First Counselor in the First Presidency, tells a tender personal story that makes this point in a penetrating way. When he was a teenager, his family moved from a very comfortable environment for young Henry to a location that was not to his liking. He sulked for a bit until the Spirit spoke directly to him about who he was in God’s plan and how he ought to proceed. One day the Spirit instructed, “When you find who you are, you will be sorry you didn’t try harder.” I suspect this spiritual admonition for more diligent effort is probably appropriate for most of us. The Lord will lead us in our particular role if we will seek and follow His guidance.
Jesus Christ is the greatest example of one who understood who He was. His success during His mortal probation is, in part, a reflection of this understanding. Christ’s ministry is filled with statements highlighting His complete understanding of His mortal and His eternal destiny. For instance, in John 18:37 we read the interchange between Pilate and Christ: “Pilate … said unto him, Art thou a king then? Jesus answered, Thou sayest that I am a king. To this end was I born, and for this cause came I into the world, that I should bear witness unto the truth.”
In fact, everything we know about Christ suggests that He understood exactly who He was and exactly what He was expected to do in His life.
Talents and Gifts
For us to move in the desired direction for our own lives, we must come to know ourselves. We must study, stretch, and test ourselves and ponder the results. This getting-to-know-yourself process is important because it enables you to do more with your life. It permits you to come closer to realizing your full potential. It lets you build on and use your strengths, your gifts, and your talents to carry out your purpose in God’s plan. It helps you overcome your weaknesses and avoid your vulnerabilities.
In a world so filled with despairing souls lacking a sense of personal worth, it is most uplifting to know that each one of us is endowed from on high with at least one spiritual gift (see D&C 46:11–12). When we know our gifts, we can polish them, hone them, and use them to bless the lives of those about us.
Let me give you a couple of examples from the life that I know best: my own. In high school I thought I was a pretty good athlete, and I wanted to play college ball. I tried out for football at Brigham Young University and was promptly cut. Then I tried out for basketball and was promptly cut. I didn’t bother with baseball and tennis.
But I wasn’t convinced of my limitations, even though everyone else seemed to be fully aware of them. I went to the Air Force Academy, where I wanted to try out again for collegiate athletics. With only 300 cadets on campus at that time, the odds were much better. I played football, basketball, and baseball my first year at the academy. But my maturing capacity for introspection, as well as knee surgery, made me realize that I was quite mediocre even on my better days. So I made some adjustments to my life goals. I have enjoyed a lifetime of participating in sports, but I have measured success and happiness in terms of participation rather than in excellence in performance.
When I was a freshman, Janie Thompson—a BYU legend in finding and developing talent—asked me if I would participate in a song and dance number she was producing for a conference. I agreed. But after a few practices, Janie said, “Bob, I like your enthusiasm, but you are not much of a singer.” Since then I have not sought opportunities to sing in front of audiences. But I have found numerous rewards for enthusiasm.
Your successes highlight your gifts; your disappointments help you learn your limitations and identify areas to work on. These important lessons directly affect who you are in God’s plan and play a major role in helping you determine your true identity.
Spiritual Identity Theft
One of the great blessings of understanding our true eternal identity as a child of God is that our personal sense of self-worth can only be high. He loves each one of His children. We are each His son or daughter, with the potential to become like Him. In the gospel plan based on moral agency, we fail only if we make choices that lead to failure. But in that same light, we can make choices that will lead to our marvelous success. One of the great beauties of the gospel is that critical decisions are ours for the making.
Let us briefly discuss a significant threat to achieving our divine potential. Today we receive many warnings about identity theft. Some of you may have experienced the trauma resulting from this fraud. In our cybernetic world of trust and rapid transmission of medical, financial, and other personal data, we are vulnerable to exploitation of our identifying details. Theft of our numerical mortal identity can be costly and cause us a great deal of misery. But the theft of our eternal identity has much longer effects and more dire consequences. I am not talking about addresses, credit cards, or any other identifying numbers. I am talking about something much more basic and more important than who the world thinks you are. I am talking about who you think you are.
We know we are sons and daughters of God, with the potential to become like Him as described in His plan of happiness. We know this potential is achieved through our faith in the Lord Jesus Christ and through obedience to the eternal laws and principles embedded in His gospel. We also know that Satan is totally dedicated to thwarting and derailing this marvelous plan-of-happiness knowledge and process. We know that one of his primary tools is to entice us to forget who we really are—to fail to realize or to forget our divine potential. This is the cruelest form of identity theft.
How does Satan do it? He is quite straightforward and predictable. First, he attempts to prompt doubts in our minds about our divine potential. He even cultivates doctrine in the world implying we are much less than we really are. He undermines our faith—and thus our confidence—in our ability to achieve our potential. He strives to bring us to a mind-set in which we believe that we, individually, are not good enough to ever achieve our celestial goals.
In this same vein Satan seeks to convince us that we are so bad that even the atoning sacrifice of Jesus Christ is not sufficient to reach down to our lowly depths and draw us up unto our Savior. He tempts us into paths that seem to verify his cynicism about our grand and glorious potential.
He then hedges his bets by surrounding us with the gaudy, glitzy filth of pornography and other forms of immorality and thus precludes our being led by the Holy Spirit. He is a clever fellow with many tricks to make us forget who we really are: sons and daughters of God with divine potential.
Remembering Who We Are
Satan does not want us to understand our divine potential, but the Lord certainly does. He has provided us with countless scriptures and prophetic promptings to help us counter and resist these satanic pulls. One of the most powerful of these promptings is found when Helaman, under the Lord’s direction, counseled his sons, Nephi and Lehi. He repeatedly admonished them to remember who they were and whence their marvelous spiritual heritage came: “And now, my sons, remember, remember that it is upon the rock of our Redeemer, who is Christ, the Son of God, that ye must build your foundation; that when the devil shall send forth his mighty winds, yea, his shafts in the whirlwind, yea, when all his hail and his mighty storm shall beat upon you, it shall have no power over you to drag you down to the gulf of misery and endless wo, because of the rock upon which ye are built, which is a sure foundation, a foundation whereon if men build they cannot fall” (Helaman 5:12).
“Remembering” is a very important principle to help us keep in mind our true identity. This is why we partake of the sacrament each week: to renew our covenants we have made with the Lord in the waters of baptism, to remember Him and to keep His commandments, to refresh in our minds who we are and what our role is in God’s plan.
This is why we go back to the temple: to renew our covenants that we have made in those sacred halls and to remind ourselves of these covenants and obligations. When we thus remember these sacred obligations, Satan’s storms and attacks will not turn us from our quest—from pursuing our divine potential.
I pray that we may ever remember who we are: sons and daughters of a loving Father, who have the potential to return to His side and dwell with Him as celestial beings.
Illustrations by Cary Henrie, except as noted
Above left: detail from The Greatest of All, by Del Parson
Photograph of couple by Juan Pablo Aragon Armas; photograph of temple by Matthew Reier